Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Halcyon Days Of Youth

This entry was inspired by Haru... Thanks for making me remember.

Gone are the days of school but now yearning to return. Gone are my childhood friends whom I play and fought with. The giants in our teachers, tall and erect. Fearsome like the ogres of storybooks are but now mere shadows of their former selves. So tiny and midget-like in my eyes of now. Silly it is of me to be so frightened and in awe even to be in their shadows then.

I speak to them and hear them talk. How shallow are their knowledge compared to what I possess. No matter how little do they know, it is them who are my teachers, teaching me the art of growing up and to be a leader amongst men. I am sure, they are proud of me. Without them, this cocky sprout would never become a mightier oak than them. For this, I thank them with all my heartfelt sincerity.

Gone are the days of laughter and chatter in the classrooms. They are now empty and silent before me. I looked in wonder at the tiny elf-like chairs and desks I once used to sit and write upon; scribbling in haste to beat the alloted essay time limit. If I now sit on it, it would surely break! Time changes everything. Essays, now I can write at the drop of the hat!

On the wooden surfaces of the desk are marks of old, forever etched in time by generations past. I fondly remembered how this mark had gotten there and how that chip came into being. So long ago and yet still so fresh in my mind. Yes, I am a giant now, of greatest stature but in my mind, a kid of so many yesteryears ago. I seemed to hear the voices of my teachers telling us to be quiet. Still so many voices in my head begging to be heard.

Gone are the years when I came back to my old school. Nary a classroom in sight. Nary a path to be seen. Now, in front of my eyes, an alien landscape I know not. Gone are the desks and chairs I once used. I should have taken them when I had the chance.

Gone are the familiar faces. Even soild buildings are not immune to time. Truely lost in the strange buildings and yet on familiar grounds I trod. No one recognized me but asked this stranger his business here. I paused and I smiled, replying in lies that I am on my way to see the headmaster. No more questions asked and went their way. For a few more moments, I pondered in sighs. Should I continue my journey? No point, I told myself. For time is a heartless traveller recognizing no friend or foe.
Haru's original piece.
Translation Practice


Finally we reach the age that we used to look forward to but only to find that some people have been engaged. Some have been married; some have goneabroad; some are living a smooth life; some are still insisting on their dreams; some are still living a mediocre life… The blue sky that belongs to the graduation seasons has been gone. We have no idea where the people who promised to accompany us to the future are. As we are looking at the sky outside of the window, it suddenly turns black. Just like our youth, it slips away without trace.

My polishing and correction of her above piece.

Finally we have reached the age that we as kids used to look forward to but only to find that some people are engaged, some married; some are abroad; some are having a great life; some are still insisting living out on their dreams and others in a life of idleness… Gone is the blue sky of our graduation days. Then there is the one on the quadrangle who said that we will walk together into the future, is nowhere to be seen. Looking at the sky through the window, see how gloomy it had become. Just I felt like our youth, fleeting away and suddenly gone without a trace.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Wishing Upon A Boat

Simple pleasures of an uncomplicated life.  Let not the rat races of the world come knocking here into this paradise.

Semporna, a tiny town in East Malaysia on the northern side of the Island of Borneo

小舟划水伴龍影, Rowing a little boat by the dragon’s shadow,
龍影閃罩龍宮苑. The dragon’s shadow briefly crosses the Dragon Palace garden.
宮苑為世人為天, If the Palace Garden is Earth, then man must be Heaven,
天為心靜從何怨. Heaven is the bliss of the heart, whence resentment comes from?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

18 June 2012...

The theme of the above Chinese poem was inspired when I first saw the picture. However, during my time spent in Balboa Park in this past week, I was mulling over it. The theme may be okay but the imagery was not appropriate to the picture. The movement was too fast implied by the "dragon's shadow". At the same time, the poem does not quite rhyme. I was toying with a pattern not found in Chinese. I was making the end of the previous line into the starting of the next line. It was fun and whimsical but not really good. As I was strolling through the sunny day in the park, my mind was relentless with me until I have come up with something satisfactory. At the same time, I thought it would be a good idea to let you all have a glimpse into my thought process is.

There were a number of lines, I first came up to make the poem rhyme.

划舟破水隨龍影 Rowing the boat, breaking the water, following the dragon's shadow. However, there are two things that are not quite right. First of all, not everyone at the first glance will know that the dragon's shadow refers to the longish shadow of the boat in the photo. "Breaking the water/waves" suggests faster movement than in the photo. Also one does not see any wave around the boat except the hint of ripples caused by the oar and those in further distance from the boat.

After removing the dragon's shadow, another line rose up as, 划舟破水兩邊分. This is line good except that it does not reflect the mood in the photo well. In the third line, I wanted to convey that if the imagery world of the ocean is a human world, and that we are so lucky to behave like gods in peering down to their world, we should have no worries at all. In another words, it is just the perspective in how we should percieve to avoid sorrows. This is the theme that I wanted to convey. I was trying out different phrases such as 船上童子, (Boy on the boat), 海族 (denizens of the ocean), 魚族 (clans of fish, fish denizens). However, this is too direct and explicit. Chinese like to be oblique in their arts. At the same time, keeping in mind the constraints of the rhyming structure. In the end, I came up with the following.

划舟渡眾水清深, Rowing the boat, ferrying across clear waters of the deep,
海靜無風聽漣音. Calm is the ocean, I hear ripples sound.
船下人間面上仙, If those under the boat are from the mortal world, then all above are immortals,
懮愁漂來誰之心. Should sorrow come drifting by, to whom does it belong to?

I like the phrase 渡眾, "ferrying the masses". It can be literal as in the photo ferrying his siblings or can be figurative as in salvation of the masses in Buddhist terminology. I wanted to use another Buddhist term, 苦海, "the sea of bitterness" but this ill-fits the photo and mood.

Monday, May 14, 2012

On Mother’s Day - 母親節日上

蝶舞蜂飛南加天, Bees abuzz, butterflies in dance on this day in Southern California,
花香鳥語伴身傍. Flowers in fragrance and birds twittering by my side.
竹林世外不顧聞, Care not the woes outside of this bamboo forest,
只怪落葉騷夏夢. Frowning only at falling leaves disturbing my summer dream.

每逢星期日的今天, 母親也是酒樓食館的大恩人! 對它們來說, 真真的一個隆重大節日! 食點心, 吃晚飯, 看塲戲. 這天四處人山人海, 做什么也好都要排長龍. 逼車霸位. 人又好, 車又好, 橫衝直撞, 節日氣氛偕盡散, 早已成為火燥煩悶.

母親久已跨鶴西去, 不如此日在家中後院的竹林下, 悠閒地度過他人忙碌的一個下午. 在椅牀上小睡, 醒後喝杯清茶, 改作文章, 聽聽大自然的風吹葉颯之樂.

On this every Sunday for Mother’s Day, it is a boon to all restaurants and eateries. No matter, having dim sum; at a dinner; even watch a movie, or whatever you want to do, there are throngs of crowds everywhere forming long queues. Traffic jams galore and fighting for a parking spot. Whether it is people or cars, everyone and everything is dashing here and darting there. Whatever festive mood there is, is long gone and now a heated and fiery chore.

My mother had been gone for a long time now. Might as well stay home in the midst of my backyard bamboo forest and spend an afternoon in quietude and carefreeness. Let others worry about the stress of this particular day. Take a nap on the chaise lounge. Afterwards, have a cup of tea; compose and correct some essays. In this natural setting, listen to the joy of rustling leaves.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Garden of Good and Evil


My backyard garden is a place of tranquility for me. A refuge from the noise of the outside world; an inner sanctum of a peaceful calm I sought. It may be a place for writing poems or reflections on life while sipping a cup of tea. Let not the lull of the place deceive you. It is also a place where plots and counterplots are hatched to neutralize office politics; to find a way how to delicately strangle opponents with silken cords; also to sip a cup of tea under the cool shade of the bamboo forest.

What the place really needs is a table with a zither on it, waiting for its player – preferably me, to strum the strings lambently in thought. I do not need to have the traditional incense burning to complete a classic Chinese scholar setting. You see, this place is also a garden of evening fragrance; perfumed by various jasmines, honeysuckles and daturas. Kin to the brugmansia, these are also known as angel or devil trumpets. Its fragrance is of heavenly delight while its taste is of deadly poison. In right dosages, you will be lifted into paradise; a tad too much, writhing your way to hell. Internet literature describes a journey accompanied by painful convulsions and vomiting. Not a very nice way to die. To die is never nice anyway! Never have I even put a cigarette to my lips, let alone these exotic natural hallucinogens. However, to know your poisons is a good thing.
Today, on this warm and sunny Tuesday afternoon, I am on a more sedate mission (I would indeed be a fool to write about the plots of my office sagas so publicly); sipping my cup of Chinese tea with a Chinese almond cookie or two; mulling over my new love. It had been constantly gnawing at me; caressing me and bending my mind to its will… After lunch, I decided to take the rest of the day off to enjoy the wonderful weather of a “warm” spring in Southern California. Sunshine abounds and gentle breezes rustling the bamboo leaves. What a life!

No one raises an eyebrow in the office. They know my habits well. If they want the diva to give her best, better humour her antics. They know that I will be back in the office late in the night hacking away while they are in deep slumber of a 2am dream. You see, my boss and I are cut from the same cloth! Yes, we understand each other tacitly. He has a wife that he wants to run away from and I am here because my creative mind works best at this unearthly hour. Sometimes, I wonder if my boss and I are sweethearts of the night because we have many “pillow talks”. These talks have far more weight than all the meeting discussions. We need no decorum; just plain honest talk based on hard facts. For all those who are starting on the corporate ladder, my advice is to observe the habits and likes of your bosses. Then worm yourself into their confidence. I learnt this from the Broadway show and movie, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying1.

For those interested, here's a video link to my secret garden,

My new Love is a week-old poem that slipped into my mind on a sleepless night as I was tossing and turning in bed. I could not sleep; not because of office politics but just a simple case of insomnia.

大雨西來抝柳蔭, Great rains from the west bend the willow shade.

It is a great line begging to be capped2. Finally I came up with,

小亭東立擋馬蹄. The little pavilion stood in the east, stopping all horses’ hooves.

I felt two more lines will make a lovely poem,

金釵步搖已兼收, Golden hairpins and step danglers3 have been put away.
借問蒂下鴛鴦暖. May I dare ask, are the mandarin ducks4 under the leaves warm?

Although the English translation rhetoric is good, I did not like the structure of the last line or its rhyme.

Benben5 suggested the following sentence structure,

蒂下鴛鴦是否暖. Are the mandarin ducks under the leaves warm?

This solves the sentence structure but not the rhyming scheme. It has been bothering me ever since. I wanted closure from this love and move on with my life. I sound so superficial and shallow. Don’t I? I came up various schemes, such as,

蒂下鴛鴦度春宵. Under the leaves, the mandarin ducks spent the night of spring.
蒂下鴛鴦一對儷. Under the leaves, mandarin ducks, a lovers’ pair.

As if to compound my unsolved agony, a new character came barging into my mind unceremoniously resulting in,

橫雨西來抝柳蔭– Slanting west rains came bending the willow shade.

This slight change in my opinion is more elegant as the image is more vivid and suggestive. The first version merely implied that the rains were slanting at a westerly angle. This one is more forceful. Now the second line needs changing in order to satisfy the rules of couplet matching. Friends ask me why I have so much interest for such no-longer-chic and obsolete literary pursuits of the past. Well, I tell them that they are as valid today as in the past. To me, this form of mental exercise keeps me alert and hones my thinking. Software is very much like that. A slight change in code will have a cascading effect. Those who know programming can attest that bug-fixing is a very difficult and tedious task, an art form where with one false move everything goes haywire! Fixing one bug may introduce many more down the line. Worse are the mutual or double bugs. They may have the property of cancelling the erroneous effects of one another! Hence by removing one bug, the effects of the other now manifest itself into full force. Yes, I do reach out for other fields for metaphors and paradigms to my software writing and bug removals. I mainly draw on music and literary techniques because I do not know other areas of knowledge.

The new second line now becomes,

直路東去點山脚 (天綫) The straight road going east, touches the foothills (horizon)
直路東去摧馬蹄 The straight road going east, urges faster horses’ gait.
直路東去闖天機 The straight road going east, crashes the destiny of heaven.

The third line can remain but the last one now has a few variations.

蒂下鴛鴦只一隻 Under the leaves, only one mandarin duck is left.
不怕鴛鴦只一隻 Afraid not that a mandarin duck be alone.
不比天下江山秀 Incomparable to the beauty of the empire.

Still I am not satisfied. I am honest to myself. I know that there are things which I cannot solve. I know when I am licked. If they are not that important, I shall put them aside like old love letters in a box. Perhaps, when the next time, when I peruse them again, I may have Calliope and Erato with me... Anyway, my friend is coming to see me for an afternoon Chinese tea. Anticipating for more gossips!

The Blue Kitty -

1.   The 1967 movie version,


3. Hairpins with danglers at one end so that when women walk, these pieces sway in elegance with
    each step. Together with the non-danglers, they are a must have for wealthy women in the imperial
   days. Danglers are designed to catch the eyes of the men as they walk and at the same time non-
   danglers are weapons for protecting their virtue either to commit suicide or to fight off would be

4. Mandarin ducks are symbols of love and fidelity.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Same Thing, Different Packaging

As I always say, ideas and concepts are independent from language. Only packaging shows the cultural differences. As an example, advertisements for Asian fragrances accentuate the purity and serenity of nature with blossoms while Western (especially American) ones have images of female sexuality oozing out of every curve and the male’s - out of every muscle! Very different approaches indeed. However, with the power of American consumerism leading the way and the notion that sex sells, such differences are fading away. One just simply cannot argue with profit.

Today, I am not talking about product packaging but of cultural images. A picture is worth more than a thousand words. However, there is no accompanying image for this essay as I cannot draw, paint or illustrate; and so you, my readers will just have to do with your imagination. I had tried to find suitable images on the Internet and hopefully come up with some sort of collage to illustrate my points. I failed. I shall try in words instead.

Take a simple rainy scene. Imagine that rain is falling at angle from left to right, implying that the wind is westerly; a tree or two on the right and perhaps, a distant structure afar in the left. In our minds, each one of us will conjure this scene differently in details. However, within each different cultural group, there will be shared common experience that is considered as the norm. For example, in a western mind, it is quite logical to see a moving cloud with a human face blowing fleecy clouds of rain towards a tree. You won’t find this sort of a thing in a classical Far East depiction. Instead, a grand scene of misty clouds enshrouding in the landscape of mountains and river as the main theme. Tiny windswept willows to suggest movement or with tiny people seeking refuge from the implicit depiction of rain in the background. Western classical art is explicit and places Man and his personification at the center while Far Eastern art places nature in the foreground with details left out for the viewer’s imagination.

Now I shall try illustrate my point further by more poetic forms. An English version may be,

“Zephyr herding fleecy clouds of rain towards the tree”.

Here, Zephyr, also known as Zephyrus, is the personification of the west wind. This line paints of a pastoral setting in spring or early summer because he represents the breezes of these periods. Even a figurative translation of “The gentle west wind blowing rain towards the tree” does not quite fit quite well into a Chinese imagery. It has to be repackaged into something like,

“The westerly rain bends the willow tree”.

This is translated to suit the English mind. The literal translation would be something like, “Great rain from the west bends the willow shade (canopy)”. 大雨西來抝柳蔭. This would be the conclusion for the essay. However, this Chinese line is too good a one to let it pass. Therefore, I would like to issue a challenge to my Chinese readers, if I may, that they complete this couplet. I await eagerly for your responses.

Thursday, April 05, 2012, 5am

Thursday, March 29, 2012


今日是星期一了. 天要捉弄我. 偏偏被困在辦公室內而外面有萬道陽光歡照,把個南加洲一片大地温暖起來. 而我呢? 只能妬忌地睄睄窗外的情境. 真氣殺我也! 好在今天所有的電腦軟体問題都已經解决了又早已批發給屬下去辦了. 現在放晏1, 為了減肥只叫人買些沙律2回來. 這样才可以避免美食廣塲中所有香噴噴3的誘惑! 乘有停機時間可以揮筆學習寫中文.

人生路上的行人只知來不知去. 富在深山有遠親, 貧居鬧市無人問! 人性就是這樣. 要樂不要哀. 但無哀不知樂從來, 無苦不知甜. 俗語說得好, 馬馴被人騎, 人善被人欺. 權貴千世羨, 窮賤萬人踩. 人的說話可以扭轉乾坤. 是富有就稱為財大氣粗, 非富即為污糟45!有時總覺得 若我英文不是超良, 誰會來理睬我. 另一方面亦有人指責我夸多斗靡! 我会在乎嗎. 非也. 只有天知地曉. 唯我自明良心懂.

想話6繼續多咆哮一下. 但好可惜呀… 兔仔的食物已經到了!

Today is Monday and Heaven is playing a joke on me. Why it must be in the middle of the week that I am imprisoned in the office while tons of sunshine is shining happily outside with all of Southern California being warmed up. And what of me? All I can do is to peer outside of the window in envy. It’s killing me, Larry1!

Luckily, all this morning’s software problems had been solved and are being assigned to my subordinates to take care of the details. It is now lunchtime. As I am going on a diet, I asked someone to bring back some salad for me. This is the only way I can avoid all those tempting aromas from the food court. Taking this opportunity, I begin this essay.

In this road of life, passer-bys only notice those entering but not the leaving ones. There are always distant relatives when you are rich, even if you live in the remote mountains. When you are poor in the busiest of cities, nary will anyone inquire about you! Human nature is thus - joys to be had but never sorrows. Now, without sorrow whence joy will come from? Without bitterness, sweetness is but unknown. How apt the saying is, “A tame horse will be ridden by people just as the kindred will be bullied. Millions will go goo-goo gaga over the rich and powerful but the destitute will be trodden by the very ones. Still people’s tongues will turn and twist things around. If you are rich, then you are known as the filthy rich. If you have no money then you are the dirty poor! Sometimes, I felt that if my English is not that great, who would notice me? On the other hand, others will accuse that I am a show off. So do I care? No, I don’t. Heaven knows, Earth knows, I know and my conscience knows.

Of course I can continue ranting on but alas, the rabbit food is here.

Here's a more elegant version from Andrew,



Monday, March 26, 2012

1. 午飯時間到了. 可以去吃.

2. 沙拉

3. 形容飃搖的香氣

4. 齷齪, 骯髒

5. 不是包括廣東人在內, 他們喜歡稱別人為鬼! 例如美國鬼, 鬼妹, 鬼婆, 鬼仔(白種男兒), 鬼佬 (比較老些的白種男人)

6. 還想

7. Just a play of words from a series of advertisements in California where the owner of a sleeping mattress chain store, Larry, is offering huge discounts while his accountant is screaming, “Larry, you are killing me!” as the punch line.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Poetic Gem

Duanqunling,, wrote this delightful stanza in a private note. It is too wonderful not to share with others. My translation is figurative and trying to capture her essence.

文如涓涓細流疑似女,Your words trickle delicately like a lassie.
氣如排山倒海思似男。Yet its spirit tower over mountains and oceans like those of a man.
樸素迷离不能辨,        So simple and yet so profound.
化作思念留心間。        Turning thoughts of the head into sweetness of the heart.

A literal version would be,

Your essay flows delicately like a girl,
Yet its ambition can rearrange mountains and upturn oceans like that of a man.
Simplicity or wonder – hard to distinguish/separate,
Only for transforming thoughts for the heart.

It would be great if the authoress would give some comments.


This is really funny to the max! Duanqunling just wrote to tell me that she made a mistake. Instead of "樸素迷離", it should be "撲朔迷離"! A Chinese idiom to mean "complicated and confusing." The original meaning is "the difficulty in separating if one is a male or a female".

This comes from the description of rabbits. The male rabbit is more excitable because of its tendency to jump about while the female is serene with its eyes almost narrowed to a slit. (雄兔撲朔, 雌兔迷離). When they run together alongside, it is hard to distinguish the sex of the rabbits. (雙兔傍地走;安能辨我是雄雌). There is another meaning for 撲朔. It means the fluffiness of the hair on the male rabbit's feet. However, I now wonder if the female is not as fluffy! I used to have pet rabbits as a kid but I was never observant with such details. In any case, 朔 "means the new moon". The moon can used poetically for the rabbit and vice versa; such as the "jade rabbit" (玉兔). Ancient Chinese believe that it lives in the moon pounding osmanthus elixir.  There are two other lunar inhabitants, the beautiful fairy Chang-O (嫦娥) and the three legged toad (蟾). An opposite idiom is 一清二楚.

So now the poem becomes,

文如涓涓細流疑似女, Your words trickle delicately like a lassie.
氣如排山倒海思似男. Yet its spirit towers over mountains and oceans like those of a man.
撲朔迷離不能辨,          Difficult it is to know if you are a male or a female,
化作思念留心間.          For turning thoughts of the head into sweetness of the heart.

Duanqunling wrote the poem because she did not know if I was a male or female.  My former photo showing my lowered tilted head to a side hidden in my mass of long hair! I thank her for her compliment.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Cloudy Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles


人算不如天算. 昨日綺夢今朝散. 總想話一早流流就能飛車到海灘, 準備去享受一下温和而無優無慮的清閑. 因此借病為題與公司 請一日假, 打算完成昨日一塲狂想. 誰知一層寒冷的海霧, 竟然把全個南加洲濃罩起來! 蔭天淒淒, 微雨霏霏, 刺骨入心. 奈何奈何.

昨日搖頭擺尾的氣氛就如此一勾雲散. 一場歡喜一塲空. 我的陽光啊! 我的鶼鰈陽光啊! 為何今日偏偏要背棄我? 啀啀聲. 無法子, 唯有死地地上班. 至少可以在辦公室內去偷懶或大作此下文. 當然我的屬下一見到我的出現就愕然起來. 跌落地, 死都要執返一拃沙, 以傲笑相迎, 不須多句, 只用両字, “捉姦!”

Best laid plans always go awry. Yesterday’s dream, today’s tatters! All I wanted was to sped to the beach this morning and prepare myself a day of warmth and relaxation with no care or worry. Hence, I call in sick to let the office know that I will be taking a day off; hoping to realize my yesterday’s grand illusion. Who knew that a cold layer of marine fog would unexpectedly blanket the entire Southern California with tiny drizzles and cloudy cold piercing to my inner core? Alas, alas.

All the ebullience of yesterday was sucked out from me. All for nothing! Oh my sunlight, my beloved sunlight! Why art thou desert me? What can more can I do but in crestfallen mutterings trudging myself back to work. At least, I can skive off in my office or write this afterword essay. Of course, all my underlings were astonished to see my appearance. Even in defeat, I need to smile bravely with four words, “To catch lazy burgers!”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's A Fine Day


In a wisp, time had gone past you. The summer of youth is now but the wintery years. No internal fire to spur you on but imprisoned only by the external heat of a fire log. Where had I been? I remember not. So so long ago. What I could remember is like the whisper of a dream, beckoning you to return to the misty days of once upon a time.

This was how I felt before I was jolted awake and rescued from this evil spell by the song “It’s A Fine Day” by Opus III of the 90s. How many years had passed? Let me count… One, two, three, four … twenty! Wow! Can’t be wrong! I was a recent graduate then, looking for a job to satisfy the requirements of a green card. I am sitting in my office; on the 50th floor as I look through the humungous window before me. This window; my window to the outside world with wide expanse of a far away ocean scene. I could hardly make out the slither of that that beach. Still the radio song is blaring into my ears from my iPod.

The sun is shining warmly through the glass and I longed to be a bird and fly out of this concrete cage; surging through the blue sky and feel the warm wind kissing my face. I feel like leaving everything behind and return to the wild days of my youth. Too bad, the shackles had been cast solid to the ground. No longer can I free myself even if I wanted to. Too many responsibilities on my back and the sirenic comforts are hard to resist. Signs of old age must approaching. “Make hay while the sun shines.” Ha! I have plenty of hay now but where is that wide eyed boy I once knew? I must have left him far behind… Still lost in the woods! However the song is urging me to look for him.

Back to the current question. I know I cannot soar into the blue yonder with my human wings of imagination but surely I can get up from my ass right now; whizzed down into the underground garage; hopped into my open convertible before speeding off to the warm sands of that Pacific Ocean beach. Fat chance. Not at this time. The 4pm Los Angeles Traffic? Nah! Too much frazzle of the mind before reaching the shores after a grueling battle with the freeway jam dragon. Note to myself. Call in sick tomorrow and spend a day at the beach. After all, it’s Friday tomorrow! I can afford that.

Thump, thump goes the pulsating techno beat of the song. It is finally pumping the reheated blood back into my heart. As my body gyrates to its beat, I feel that my youth is returning once more. I am young again. I am superman! Please, please don’t let them come knocking on my door to break this spell. For an hour or so, let me be what I want to be… cocking my head to and fro; my long hair dancing in the air; swaying away my shoulders and my feet kicking under the desk. I type this essay to relive those days once more. Let me go back to my disco days of youth. Let my boodies shake. I want to burst out into a dance! My flight of imagination begins now. It will be at least for another hour or two before the office lights go out that I dare dance my way to my car, iPod securely to my side and earplugs snug in my ears… Pacific Ocean, here I come! Let the weekend begin by partying under the warmth of tomorrow.

Dear readers, you think I’m crazy. Yup. I’m. Need to be once in awhile. Let my hair down, so to speak. Let me behave like the Wild Man of Borneo. Let the endless repeated song of “It’s A Fine Day” be my elixir. Life is precious and short. Can’t be that staid and dowdy Jeff all the time. I’m on my way to find my long lost brother in the woods. Let’s party man! Let me dream and dance my way into the weekend or at least until I am expired from this sudden nova burst of energy.

Youth is awed by the experience of age.
The aged is mesmerized by the innocence of youth.

Thursday, March 22, 2012's+a+Fine+Day

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spacing Between Words Is Important

"Everyday" and "every day" or "maybe" and "may be" have slightly different meanings. Other words such as, "heartfelt" is the correct form and "heart felt" is not; so is "cannot" and "can not". These words have no life or death consequence. HOWEVER, some errors in the English language will definitely cause an eyebrow to be raised and may cost your career. Remember Dan Quayle? The former US Vice President who will be remembered in history as the idiot for incorrectly telling a pupil that the word "potato" is spelt with an extra "e"! Such perceptions made him into a buffoon. He will never to amount to any office higher for the rest of his life. He did not become vice president for his good looks or capability. He was just a token office holder so that he would not outshine his boss, the elder President Bush. So for all those aspiring to a high position in the English world, be "wery wery careful" or the English "Wabbit" will haunt you to no end.

Here is a funny example that a Facebook friend sent me. It is because of the perceive lack of spacing between two crucial words that caused a well-intentioned sign to become something of a guffaw/gaffee. Safeway is a major supermarket chain in the US. In the picture below is a sign for a broken automatic checkout machine....

Either the person is a complete idiot in English or he is a master of the language! Whatever the case may be, it fits the situation and earned an immortal position in the annals of the misuse of the English language.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Way Of Life


A Way Of Life

A Buddhist philosophy on living in harmony with your fellowmen. The following advice is a dialog between the bodhisattvas (菩蕯), Manjusri (Wen Shu, “Keen awareness”) and Samantabhadra (Po Hsien, “Lord of Truth”) in their incarnations.

Song of Sufferance (忍耐歌)

Cold-Mountain and Can-Be-Picked1 are hee-hawing in laughter. Let me beseech ye mortals of the world to be like us,

忍一句,禍根從此無生處; Restrain one’s tongue and there is no place for the roots of evil to sprout.
饒一著,切莫與人爭強弱; To forbear is to eliminate the desire to see who is the stronger.
耐一時,火坑變作白蓮池; To endure is to turn trenches of fire into pools of white lotuses.
退一步,便是人生修行路. In backing off… ‘Tis the way of life.

寒山問曰:                             Manjusri asked,

任他嗔.                                 Let him be annoyed and displeased.
任他怒.                                 Let him be angry.
只管寬心大著肚.                 Simply be generous hearted.
终日被人欺.                        All day I am bullied and taken advantage of.
神明天地知.                        Ye Gods, Heaven and Earth know of my plight.
若還存心忍.                        Still in tolerance will I bear.
步步得便宜.                        Each step they take advantage of me.
世人欺我.                            I am bullied by the people of the world.
害我打我骂我骗我.            Harm me, beat me, curse me and deceive me.
如何處之.                            How shall I deal with them?

拾得答曰:                            Samantabhadra replied,
只管任他.                            Simply let him be.
憑他,遠他,莫要理他.          With him, distance him, ignore him.
再過幾年看他.                    After a few years, see how he fares.
身穿破衲襖.                        Clothes in tatters.
淡飯随時飽.                        Meager and tasteless food shall fill his belly.
涕唾在臉上.                        Snort shall cover his face.
不棄自乾了.                        Turning dry without wiping them away.
有人來駡我.                        There are those who come and curse me.
我也只說好.                        Still I shall bid them fair.
有人來打我.                        There are those who come and beat me.
我自先睡倒.                        I shall first lie down and be asleep.
他也省氣力.                        He shall expend his energy.
我也無煩腦.                        While I am free from vexation.
這個波羅蜜.                        Oh this, sweet sweet perfection2.
就是無價寶.                        Is such a priceless treasure.
能依這忍字.                       All just from relying on the word “forebear”.
一生過到老.                       With this I shall live to a ripe old age.

1. Cold-Mountain and Can-Be-Picked are poet monks in the Tang Dynasty, who are thought to be the incarnations of the two Bodhisattvas, Manjusri and Samantabhadra. Cold-Mountain once lived in the Temple of the Cold Mountain in Soochow or that he spent his hermitage in a cave on Tentai mountain. Can-Be-Picked was an orphan. On his way back to the temple of Country Purity, the abbot (豐干) took pity on him and took the boy with him. Collectively the Cold-Mountain and Can-Be-Picked are known as the “Twin Saints of Peace and Harmony” (和合二聖). With the abbot, they are known as the “Three Hermits of Country Purity” (國清三隱) or “Three Saints On the Same Mountain (三聖同山).

2. “paramita” – the Six Perfections in Buddhism.

      It can also mean the jackfruit.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012



Originally this article was conceived days before Women's Day. However, by the time I was done researching, it was in time for the day. Some elements in the essay are very appropriate to the celebration to this wonderful day.

The year was 1922 and Queen Victoria no longer sat on her throne and her grandson, George V had been reigning for twenty one years already. Europe was recovering from the Great War that had collapsed the royal Houses of the Hohenzollern and the Habsburg. The Kaiser and his cousin, the Tzar, had been swept away like leaves in the autumn. At least the former German Caesar was alive, unlike the great tragedy that had befallen on the Romanovs four years earlier. It was also the year that the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ had finally expired. The once great Ottoman Empire had disintegrated and Egypt gained her independence from Great Britain and Turkey by having a King on the throne while another Egyptian King was discovered – the tomb of Tutankhamen. The USSR was formed and Stalin became its General Secretary. Although radio was in its infancy with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) beginning its service in the United Kingdom, there were already five hundred broadcasting stations in the US. President Harding introduced the radio to the White House. The Duke and Duchess of York were married, four years before Queen Elizabeth II was born. A world record was broken and Johnny Weissmuller swam 100m in 58.6 seconds that eventually made him into a movie star – as Tarzan.

Vitamin E was just discovered and the first successful insulin treatment of diabetes was applied, just four years before the advent of TV! The British Empire was at its height with the annexation of all former German colonies to become an empire with the largest land extent, covering a quarter of the world and ruling one in four humans. On the sad side, the Barbary Lion had become extinct in Morocco. So did the Amur Tiger in South Korea and the Californian grizzly bear. Sadder still was that Benito Mussolini became the Prime Minister of Italy and Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany where hyperinflation had seen the value of the Papiermark against the Dollar rose to 1,000.

On the Asian side, the Chinese Republic was ten years old and Sun Yat Sen was the president with the Last Emperor, Puyi still living in the Forbidden City. Shanghai was known as the “Sin Capital” with rampant white prostitution. Hence we have the English word, “Shanghaied” – meaning kidnapping usually by drugging. Another nicer explanation is “to drugged men to man ships going to China”. Japan was building its military for its Asian designs.  Korea and Taiwan were its colonies while the Chinese fought among themselves.

On the American side of the world, Eva Peron of Argentina was only three years old and the Panama Canal was only eight. The Gilded Era of the US was replaced by the Progressive Era. Fortunes were amassed even more by greater efficiency and mass production of goods. While royal houses of Europe were crumbling or crumbled, the US industrial houses of Mellon, Carnegie, Bloomington, Vanderbilt, Morgan and Stanley were rising meteorically. There were four tax reductions under Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon who believed that lower taxes meant greater economic growth. Automobiles were beginning to replace horse buggies. Women were accepted into work places and they finally get to vote 2 years later.  It was only a year ago that the first Miss American Pageant came into existence. The shackles and conservativism of the Victorian Age were falling. It was the Roaring 20’s. Though the Prohibition was still in place, people were rebelling. It was time for fun and craziness. Women gained greater empowerment for themselves. It was also the Jazz Age and many offbeat dances came into vogue – the Charleston, the Bunny Hug and the Turkey Trot. From the most famous dancing couple, the husband and wife dance team of Irene and Vernon Castle, came the Castle Walk and the Castle Waltz.  They introduced the Tango to the American public and it became an overnight sensation for its sensual moves. From Irene Castle herself, hemlines of women went up when hers were raised. Hemlines were not the only things raised.  Eyebrows were raised too and eyes were in shock when Irene Castle bobbed her hair. Every American woman worth her salt, had theirs bobbed as well. Yes, I learnt my Americana from movies, this one comes from the “Story of Vernon and Irene Castle” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. (Sorry can’t find a link. You have to search yourself).

Chinese culture too, became the in thing. Mahjong was played in all upper echelons of society in the major cities. Prices of Chinese porcelain, especially those of the Ch’ing Dynasty's Kang Hsi, Yung Cheng and Chien Lung periods were rocketed sky high. Thus promoting fakes made in China to satisfy this demand. The Chinese collection of Sir David Percival was starting as eunuchs were secretly selling treasures from the Forbidden City. Chinese fashion became the rage. The Cheong Sam (長衫) was modified with high slits to the hips from the informal Manchu dress, Chi Pao (祺袍). It was fashionable to wear Chinese silk pajamas. However the greatest influence was the Manchu Court official long beads. You are chic if you wear a long string of beads. However with a breasty façade, the beads will not be in place. Therefore, it became very fashionable for women to be flat chested to keep them hanging straight down! (Alas, its people were not treated in the same manner. A sign in a Shanghai park read, “No dogs and Chinaman allowed”. The Chinese Exclusion Act was still in force. It was not a good time to be Chinese in America! They were discriminated and treated like dogs). These flappers were the precursors to modern women. They wore short skirts, bobbed their hair and listened to jazz.  They were brash in wearing excessive makeup.  They drank hard and smoked with men on equal terms.  They drove in automobiles.  They treated sex in a casual manner and flaunting social and sexual norms.

For the men, well at least for college kids, bear skins and ukuleles were in vogue. As for the English language, well, much slang came into existence. See how many words you can spot that are still in use today and thus accepted into standard English usage:

Absolutely, by jingo, all wet, applesauce, atta boy/girl, bank’s closed, bearcat, beef, beeswax, bimbo, bull, butt me, cash or check, cat’s meow, cheaters, ciggy, clam, daddy, dapper, doll, dolled up, drugstore cowboy, ducky, egg, fire extinguisher, fish, fly boy, frame, gold digger, handcuff, heebie jeebies, hit on all sixes, hood, horsefeathers, jalopy, java, john, joint, kisser, level with me, moll, neck, now you are on the trolley, nobody home, on the lam, on the level, ossified, owl, pet, pipe down, putting on the Ritz, razz, real McCoy, ritzy, sap, says you, scram, Sheba, swanky, swell, take for a ride, torpedo, upchuck, wet blanket, what’s eating you, whoopee and finally, you slay me.

As for Los Angeles? It was still a sleepy town of no great consequence. New York was the center of the US. In 1922, the total number of cars was only 172,313. In the latest available figures for 2008, it  has the largest car population in the US with more than 5.8 million vehicles registered. Only five other STATES have more, California (14.2 million - not including L.A. County), Texas (8.8 million), New York (8.7 million), Florida (7.2 million), and Ohio (6.4 million) 1. Hollywood was still in its infancy of producing silent movies.

As usual, I am off my track again. Originally, I did not intend that this article to be a history lesson for the year 1922. It was supposed to be a short introduction to a movie that I am going to introduce and share with you that took place in that year. This movie, “Thoroughly Modern Mille” was made in 1967, a musical comedy that I enjoyed very much. I was able to find a copy on site that my Mainland Chinese friends can access. It starred three greatest personages from their areas of entertainment when the movie came out. Julie Andrews was the reigning movie queen for her Oscar award in “The Sound of Music” two years earlier; Mary Tyler Moore, from her just ended TV series, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and the first lady of Broadway, Carol Channing from the still ongoing “Hello Dolly” on Broadway.

The movie contains many politically incorrect scenes deemed by today’s standards. Groups were stereotyped – Russian Jews and of course the pigtailed inscrutable Chinese. In the last few scenes of the movie, whites were made to look like heroes of effortless efficiency while the Chinese were portrayed as buffoons. I could not understand the Chinese that was spoken by the main villianess. Finally I figured it out that it was Mandarin; meaning “quickly” (速手). However, I do detect Cantonese sounds spoken in the background scenes depicting life in Chinatown. For those who had seen the more recent movie, “The Karate Kid”, see if you can recognize Pat Morita, the Karate teacher in this 1967 movie! At the end of the day, it was how Americans perceive us as such in the 1920s and even in the 60s. Whatever the case may be, how one group is viewed by another is due to how their countries treated each other. One day, they are friends and enemies in the next day.  Then they are back to being kissy kissy again. Their actions are no better than those of a squabbling married couple.

Without further ado, here is the link to the movie and others for your easy reference. Most of the things mentioned in this article can be searched easily by Google. So take out your popcorn or a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy this wonderful entertainment of song and dance.

Conceived 06 mar 2012. Completed 08 Mar 2012


Thoroughly Modern Millie

The Castle Walk

The Castle Waltz

Hello Dolly – Carol Channing

Hello Dolly – Barbara Streisand

Dances of the 20s

Roaring 20s – Dance Craze


More Flappers

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mother Of Kings


I had been bad. My mind was not in a tiptop shape for the last few days. I spent my nights watching a Chinese serial called, “Mother of Kings”. The translated title is a misnomer although it is actually quite good for advertisement purposes. It captures the basic story in just three words. It is quite a feat in doing so. Unlike in this entry, the correct translation cannot be explained clearly. It is also known by more dowdy title of “The Queens”.

The serial is based on a life story of a woman who rose from obscurity to the pinnacle of power in the imperial history of the Eastern Han Dynasty. She was pivotal in the break of the dynasty for a few short years before it rose from its ashes as the Western Han Dynasty. For those who are not well versed in Chinese history, the other major power of the day was the Roman Empire.

Women in the harem will stoop to nothing; murdering not only their rivals but the male issues of their rivals. This is also true in the harems of the Ottoman Empire. The story is unique because this is the only known case where the infatuated Emperor would allow his baby son and heir to the throne be killed with no consequences for the murderess. Great plots! However the serial skipped many more interesting historical facts. I guess the director was trying to impinge his creative marks on this film. However, what he fabricated can do no justice to the real intrigues of history.

The correct title of the series should be, “The Motherly Model of the Empire” or “The Motherly Rites of the Empire” (母儀天下). However, if translated this way, many will scratch their heads in puzzlement and too long a title. In Chinese imperial philosophy, the emperor is the Son of Heaven, the father of the empire while the Empress is its mother. All subjects are considered to be the children. A very Confucian model indeed. As such, the empress must behave like an ideal mother; a model and paradigm to the nation - in other words, a paragon of virtue. This was stressed later in the serial. Although ancient Chinese is a polygynous society, imperial law stated that there can only be one current empress at any time. Of course, all his other women can have various titles to skirt around the restriction but protocol requires that their ranks be lower than that of the empress. A more drastic way is to depose her and let another takes her place. Whichever the case may be, real power lies with the one whom the emperor favoured most.

What really prompted me to write this article were the poetic lyrics for the ending song. At the same time learning few new Chinese characters (highlighted in red). At first I was astounded by the poetic elegance which summed up the story perfectly.

兼葭蒼蒼,    His double flute sounds are far and misty.
白露為霜.    The pure dew has now become frost.
所為伊人,    This so called person,
在水一方.    Is now somewhere by the river bank.
溯洄從之,    Following the meandering, (I searched for thee).
道阻且長.    The course, full of obstacles, is long and difficult.
溯游從之,    Upstream I went following,
宛在水中央. As if I had entered into the flow.

In the fictionalized story, the main female character has an unrequited love for a nobleman who was a carefree guy. To irk and to circumvent his father’s wishes that he enters the imperial court to seek some high official post, he became a court musician to the crown prince instead; thus satisfying the literal words of his father. His favourite instrument was the flute. Later circumstances made him change his mind to become an imperial chancellor in order to protect his now unattainable love - now the empress. In the end, he was executed for treason due to court intrigue and scorn from a rival empress dowager whom he had rejected her advances (another fabrication to liven up the story). Thus 兼葭 caught my eye. 兼 means ‘double’ or ‘double ranked’. 葭 means a flute; actually a kind of reed used to make the instrument.

The second line of the poem can mean the innocence of the young girls entering the harem and has now become ruthless cold blooded killers. Because of the influence of the story, the river bank can mean the nether world. I have this visual image of the lady searching for the source of the river as if being waded into the river or as if the river had embraced her into its waters to seek the soul of her lover. A sort of the Orpheus and Eurydice story. However, I was wrong. I did some research and found that the director, like some subplots, had fiddled here and there to fit his ideas and to fit the melody. From the internet, I was surprised to find that it was an ancient poem. The keyword changed was 蒹 and not 兼. The difference is the removal of the grass radical. 蒹葭 is Phragmites communis; a kind of reed. See the following link to see how it looks like.

蒹葭(秦風) Reeds (Winds of Chin1)

蒹葭蒼蒼,      The reeds extend far into infinity,
白露為霜.      Pure drops of dew now frosted white.
所謂伊人,      This so called person,
在水一方.      Is somewhere by the river bank.
溯洄從之,      Following the meanders, (I searched for thee)
道阻且長.      The course, fraught with obstacles, is long and difficult.
溯游從之,      Upstream I went following,
宛在水中央.   As if I had entered into the flow.

蒹葭凄凄,      How luxuriant are the reeds 淒 here is the same as 萋
白露未晞.      Pure drops of dew not yet dried.
所謂伊人,      This so called person,
在水之湄.      Is somewhere by the river’s edge 2.
溯洄從之,      Following the meanders, (I searched for thee)
道阻且躋.      The path is tricky and on the rise.
溯游從之,      Upstream I went following,
宛在水中坻3.  As if I am on a rock in the midst of the river.

蒹葭采采,      How thick, are the reeds,
白露未已.      Pure drops of dew still a forming.
所謂伊人,      This so called person,
宛在水之涘.   Is somewhere by the river’s edge
溯洄從之,      Following the meanders, (I searched for thee)
道阻且右.      The way is difficult and twisty.
溯游從之,      Upstream I went following,
宛在水中沚4. As if I am on an islet in the river.

1. The State of Chin where the First Emperor came from. The Chinese word for ‘wind” can also refer to the local customs, scenery or even political winds of change etc.

2. 湄 -The line where grasses and the water meet.

3. 坻 is a rock in the middle of a river.

4. 沚 is somewhat larger than a 3.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

The First Barb of the Year

This originally appeared as a note entry in Italki.

Again the entry is too long to fit into the notebook box. So the main text appears in the correction box. This is my 101th one notebook entry on this happy occasion. A good sign as the extra one in Chinese means that I am able to be rise above the crowd and be rich, be famous etc. The literal meaning of出頭 is “jutting head”. The faces had been altered to protect the innocent :)
Today is the Lunar New Year. It is rainy, cold and dank outside. However, to the Cantonese it is of a good omen. Water is synonymous with wealth. You see, Canton is on the coast of China and to the Cantonese, water is life. Chinese from the interior regions do not regard water as much as coastal Chinese and Cantonese are a superstitious lot unlike the rest of the Chinese.

Last night was the eve of the Lunar New Year. It was time for the Reunion Dinner. To us, this dinner can be more important than the New Year itself. This is almost like the American Thanksgiving Dinner. It is a time of bonding with family members. It is a time of re-acquaintance. For dysfunctional families, a time of old wounds breaking out for bystanders to enjoy a good Chinese opera. However, this happens only in movies. No one would dare to mar the auspiciousness of the occasion! It is a time for renewal and a time of joy. No one dares to wrought the anger of the gods upon themselves and have bad luck for the entire year!

It is also a time to discard all things old. It is the time to don on things brand new, clothing, including underwear, socks and new pajamas to bed. It is also a time when kids can run amuck with no curfew. They are allowed to stay up to greet the New Year, eat whatever there is to be eaten and play around with firecrackers. As a child growing up, it was a long sought magical time when their childhood times seemed to be at a stand still. A day, an eternity to the kid. It was a time I could play with my rarely seen cousins (because of school and we do not attend the same school); setting off firecrackers; eating candies, sweet meats and drinking sodas (a rare commodity in those days for us) and finally to the temple at midnight for getting good luck (no blessing from priests. Chinese are a very practical people). The women of the family would also prepare their traditional garb for the next morning’s tea ceremony presented to the patriarchs and matriarchs of one’s family.

This all important cup of tea presented by the daughter-in-law and son is the main thing in the ritual besides the birthdays of the paternal grandparents. In a big family like ours, the first son and wife will start the ritual with the youngest son and wife ending it. Almost like watching a Chinese opera close up. This is because part of the house will become a changing room with the ladies donning their costumes. After the tea ceremony, the women changed back into their normal clothing and the costumes packed up in mothballs and covered in plastic bags until next year. Then an efficient round of red packets of money is exchanged by the women for good luck to their respective families. Of course this is another source of endless gossips among different factions of the family. The men, like useless drones are carefree with the wives running the show are by now in the backroom playing poker! Soon the women are enjoined in mahjong sessions. Of course the kids are let loose to do whatever they can get away with by the doting grandmothers (We have two paternal grandmothers living under the same roof). Finally when the gathering comes to an end, each family was on their way to do their various activities. For my family, we had to go to two different places to pay our respect to my mother’s side of the family. Thank goodness, to a kid, there were not as many members. One is to the so called adopted grandmother who adopted my mother’s blood sister and so my mother treated the lady as her “mother” too. It was quite convenient as she lived on the same street as my grandfather. Next we travelled to my maternal grandfather and his second wife (my blood grandmother lives with us). We do not mix often with the maternal side of the family since my grandfather was an ultra conservative and traditional overseas Chinese. Daughters married out are not considered as part of the family. They should belong to the husband’s side. So it was an unspoken rule that the filial daughter-in-law should not be mixing with people not considered being in the direct branches of the family. She must be proper in all her ways. My mother being the obedient one as she was; always followed the rule rigidly. My mother would never go into a hotel by herself even to visit relatives from her side (She has no friends until my grandfather died and claimed that no one is longer interested in an old duck!). She would bring the son or a daughter along to avoid gossip. I never saw other aunts doing the same thing. Either my mother was so obedient or she was the smartest woman alive in the family.

Then the firecrackers ban came. Most Asian cities now banned them because of accidental fires. So the eves of Chinese New Year had become a drab for me. It had turned into just like other ordinary day. The feel and atmosphere were just not the same even though there was enough hustle and bustle going on. No longer were the streets flooded with shreds of exploded red paper of the firecrackers. The magic had gone. Even worse, now in the US, the Chinese New Year Day is just another working day. This year, the Eve fell on a Sunday. Therefore my friends and I can congregate at my place for an afternoon of delight - mahjong before eating out at a nearby restaurant for the Reunion Dinner. Instead of family members, it is my close by friends that we are able to come together for simple enjoyment. We had two tables going on at the same time. We are not gamblers. No money is exchanged. Just our prestige. The reason is simple. Winning too much from a friend is never good. It just creates animosity. Winning meagerly is not satisfying either. So instead, we bet on the prestige of our skills; gossiping and ribbing at each other at the same time. When the time came for the Dinner, the ten of us carpooled and drove in three cars to one of my favourite restaurants that we had patronized regularly over the years. I dare say that if without us being there on weekdays, they would have gone out of business by now!

We had decided to eat near my place because there are not many Chinese or Vietnamese living in my area. In places like San Gabriel, Monterey Park, Alhambra, Rowland Heights, etc, it would be quite difficult to find a place to eat on this day at this time. Even so, Asian restaurants take the advantage on this occasion to raise their prices by ten to thirty percent! Anyway, arriving at the restaurant, it was not a surprise to find the main dinning hall filled up. We waited at the foyer to be seated. Then a regular waiter came up to me and asked,

“Do you have reservation?”

I didn’t think he had cheekily asked in jest. His tone did not suggest that. I was sure he had been worn out by the eating crowds. Still he should not have spoke out in such a way to a regular paying customer. I always pride myself for being quick witted and blessed with a barbed tongue. I quickly retorted,

“Do I need a reservation?”

My reply was laced with menace and venom. The owner must have overhead the conversation and quickly interjected. He told us that our table would be ready soon. Please be patient he said. Of course, I replied with courtesy and told him to take his time. I am sure that he does not want to lose ten people’s worth of business. Being savvy in business and diplomacy, he immediately opened up the VIP section for us to have a private table. We had a great time and the food was great. I wish that I know how to upload the photos of the eight symbolic dishes we ordered. There were two kinds of fish, three kinds of mushrooms, beef, chicken and tofu. I was very sure the owner was a very happy man with dollar signs in his eyes!

Equally impressed were my friends for getting a table so quickly. If the waiter had said nothing or just ask for our patience, I would have kept my mouth shut and waited patiently. It is not that there are empty tables on sight. It would be very unreasonable of me to demand my way or turn my back and head off to another nearby restaurant, of which there are a few. I always believe that I must treat others with dignity, kindness and with smiles. However if you do not reciprocate, then you will know what a stinker I can be.

This is a lesson especially to all my mousey friends on Italki. You know who you are. You need to be outspoken when the situation calls for. Be polite and humble until you are trodden on. Always remember that the customer is right. Anyway, I felt good that my wits are as sharp. I learnt from the best. This quote is from Dorothy Parker (,

"The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dim Sum Replies

For those who do not know what dim sum is, it is a Cantonese food fare that started out serving customers who wake up early in the morning to take their song birds to a gathering place to hear them sing. It was a sort of friendly competition and leisure pleasure to meet up with friends with common interests. Originally only hot tea was served. Then some enterprising owner of the place started to have simple items of breakfast foods such as steamed buns and porridge. Later dumplings were served. It has now evolved into an elaborate affair with all kinds of dainty looking foods. There are now two kinds of dim sum restaurants. The traditional ones would have heat generators installed in small carts to keep the steaming food trays hot. The dim sum ladies would push them to the tables where customers can look at what is there. Upon ordering, the bill would be stamped in the appropriate price category. Here in Los Angeles, there are dim sum places where all the price of different items is the same. It is quite an eye opener especially for those who never had dim sum before. Just let their eyes do the ordering. The more modern restaurants, maybe because of the lack of space for the cart maneuvers, will cook whatever items are ticked on the menu ticket. This is good for people on the go with no time to spare. A bonus for this way is that you are sure of the food arriving at the table is piping hot. Dim sum had come a long way.

Today, my essay is not about dim sum but a continuation story from an earlier entry of mine – Mid Autumn Parting. For those who are interested in the background, please refer to

We had dim sum last weekend. There were five of us. It was the usual run of the mill monthly ritual that we do to keep in touch. We were excited because we had received news from our Hong Kong friend who had left the US last autumn. He had suggested we should have a gathering in the coming summer. Of course we were excited and joined in the chorus of cacophony with other customers in your typical boisterous Chinese restaurant setting. Each different table filled with different animations of different people mired in their own world of affairs. We were debating whether to go to Asia or that he should return to the US. There were pros and cons; hotly debated as we caught on with excitement.

Then an evil twinkle of his eye, we knew what this close friend of us was up to in his sleeve. Time to have our brains exercised. True enough to our expectation; soon he uttered the following lines,

叢林百鳥啼, A hundred birds chirping in the deep forest,
枝上鳳凰遊. The phoenix roving on top of branches.
宴席長夜樂, Joyous are banquets through the long night,
定要醉為題. Must use the word ,“drunkness” as the theme.

We smiled at his vivid imagination and a way of demeaning us as nothing but a bunch of chattering birds while he is the phoenix soaring in poetic utterance. It was also a challenge issued to us. What a bunch of winos these friends of mine are! One friend immediately took up arms and recited eloquently,

花間彩蝶飛, Colored butterflies hovering atop of flowers,
池塘水蓮香. Lotus fragrance wafting on the pond.
難得良兄來, Hard it is for our dear friend to come,
不醉不為友! Not in drunkenness, we are not friends!

Well, at least we are now promoted to colorful butterflies while making him as the lofty pure lotus blossom! Not only that, he also suggested that our friend should come to the US instead of us going abroad. Then as we contemplated on his wisdom, another friend set off another salvo, continuing on the previous scenic themes,

水上蜻蜓點, Dragonflies hovering on the water’s surface,
萍下金鱗現. Under the duckweeds, golden scales appear.
此聚定要醉, For this gathering, we must get drunk,
酒盡才回家! Only when the wine is gone, shall we then head home!

Geez, are we now mere dragonflies while he compared himself to some golden carp to be dragon. Oh well, what to do? After all, it is his poem. I am always amazed at their quick witty replies. My mind is still at a blank. Well, as more tea passed around since the restaurant does not serve alcohol at this time of the day, my fourth friend started on his,

小溪柳蔭邊, By the banks of the brook, under the willow shade,
閑釣問長短. Fishing in leisure while asking the long and short of things.
遍地酒壺空, Strewn on the ground are empty jugs of wine,
嘻哈鬼震狂! Laughing in orgiastic merriment!

His poem suggests that we should camp in some private park where they can drink themselves to stupor; laughing and making fools of themselves without any care in the world. Not only that, no law can touch on them for being in thorough intoxication. Sure the idea merits a second thought. To be with nature while asking the ins and outs of our friend we are just a gossipy bunch hidden in the guise of things. And they say that only women revel in gossips! What baloney! Anyway, I was sure they were ganging up on me since I am the only one in the group who does not drink. If I came out with some similar thought, then they would ridicule me to no end as a hypocrite! Need to act fast but how. One of them even smirked and told me to take my time. When they are not drunk, they can be viciously dear to me. This is what friends are for, to needle and jab you without mercy and yet not have to worry about anything. I guess I have to rely on my engineering and mathematical background to save me. Then a mathematical corollary thought gave birth to an idea. To give me the time to polish my words, I chided them for being drunks while coming up with the eloquence needed,

上樓四仙醉, In this grand tower pavilion, the four immortals are drunk,
身無飛天駒. If there is no sky reaching steed by their sides,
若回玉蟾宮, Wishing to return to the Lunar Palace,
醒後坐花廳! Upon wakening, only to find themselves in the goalie!

Breaking out in guffaws, they simply said, “Touché. Not bad... Not bad at all”.

NOTE: For those not in the know, driving under influence in California is illegal. If caught having 0.08% by weight of alcohol in the blood stream of 100 millimeters of blood or in 210 liters of breath, heavy penalties are levied with a mandatory night spent in the jail.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

First Entry of 2012 Or English Pronunciation

2011 is already past history and 2012 is just tipping its toe into the calendar. My mind was at a blank on what to write. I guess too much partying. Least people may misunderstood by the word partying... I never drank in my life and so your image of a drunken Jeff, staggering and slurring his words with a glass in hand would be totally off the chart. I was totally sane but having a great time in laughter and sampling morsels of food here and there.

Anyway, a Facebook friend alerted me to this article which I think would be of interest to all those who are learning the English language. It says, if you can pronounce every word of this poem correctly, you are better than 90% of all English native speakers. However, I do think the poem cheated somehow because they have Greek words for the names of Greek Goddesses thrown in. However, they are all accepted in the English language.

It is really a shame that there is no accompanying audio to test how well you stack up against the "standard" pronunciation. Alas, I don't have input audio on my computer system, else I would have made a recording as well. If anyone would care to do one, it will be great!

The main text of the poem appears in the correction box in case for those who cannot access foreign websites. Enjoy exercising your tongue :)

If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world.

After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud.

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

English Pronunciation by G. Nolst Trenité

desertjedi 1 hour(s) ago

Wow, I knew English was bad in terms of rules of pronunciation but I didn't realize the extent of the confusion it must create amongst non-English speakers. Well, I guess that's the biggest strike against English. But as I teach my friend English (while she teaches me Russian), I have found some positives: 1) So many words in English are short in length. It's amazing the concepts that you can convey even when limited to words of four letters or less. 2) I'm finding the verb conjugations are often the same across all pronouns with occasional exceptions for he/she or singular vs. plural pronouns. Often I will give her a verb's full conjugation and then realize the verb form never changes!...with the ensuing revelation of...OMG! English is so easy! Maybe this is part of the reason that my friend's progress in English has been superb while I continue to be lost, floundering and generally discouraged with Russian.

Jeff 46 minute(s) ago

I totally agree with you. Too many exceptions in English made it a language too difficult to learn. However, we got it easy when we don't have to distinguish the gender of nouns and choose which verb to use like in French, the myriad of verbial conjugations of other languagues compared to English and of course those pesky of "c", "z", "j", "k combination to produce countless exercises on the tongue. Clicking sounds of some African languages. Chinese on the other hand, has thrown away all tenses, verbial agreements, etc. However their tonal system is a monkey wrench to the ears of non-tonal language speakers. In the end, no language is easy to learn :( We are a complicated bunch of animals.